Get Out In the Cold to Sell Gear

marketing new customers sales challenges cold weather

IT WOULD SEEM that the amount of traffic passing over the threshold these days is diminishing. Nothing new, right? We also know that it's more difficult and more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to sell to existing customers. And in these days of declining sales there isn't a hell of a lot of extra money to throw around chasing bodies that may or may not respond to eloquently crafted ads. What's a dealer to do?

I recently talked with one of the West Coast's largest multiline dealerships — its brands include Harley, Triumph, Kymco, E-ton and the big-four Japanese. This dealership has been under the same ownership since the 1970s, so the owners have seen the ups, the downs and the so-sos. (As we say in Minnesota, they didn't just fall off the Lutefisk truck yesterday.) When I called the owner I was primarily interested in finding out how sales were going — what was hot, what was not, what the consumer credit situation was and when he thought this economic elevator we're riding was going to hit bottom.

He was full of enthusiasm. We'd just gotten past the "Hi, howaryas" when he said, "I gotta tell you about this promotion we just did."


He called around and got about 30 or so vendor reps to come to his store for a weekend sale. The theme of the event was, "How to Extend Your Riding Season." He recruited vendors that sell things like electrically heated outerwear, rainsuits, gloves and other cold weather riding gear. It reportedly was a huge success and made a substantial amount of money for the dealership that day.

What a great idea! Having lived in several states with fairly-bad-to-despicable winter weather over the years — Washington, Minnesota, Michigan and Georgia (although it's a short winter in Georgia) — I know too well that one of the saddest times of the year is when you've got to park your motorcycle because it's too wet, too cold, too icy, or just too uncomfortable to ride.

I have to laugh over what I wore riding back in the 1960s. What passed for cold weather gear was war surplus and skiing parkas, gloves, and boots underlayered with long-johns, sweaters, sweat shirts, sweat pants and anything else (including newspapers) that you could think of that might help keep you warm. Typically this costume kept you warm for five miles or so, and then you just toughed it out until you couldn't stand it anymore and pulled into the nearest café or coffee house to warm up. Drying out was something that wasn't going to happen at that point unless you were stopping for the night.


Today's winter riding gear is fantastic. With the new fabrics, you can stay warm enough for most situations with just the usual removable liner and a fleece sweatshirt. Add some of the new "miracle fiber" undergarments or electrically heated garments and hand-grip heaters, and short of a blizzard and icy roads you can ride in relative comfort most any time. On top of that, as an added benefit, most of this gear is water-repellent if not waterproof.

Many riders, particularly those who've recently joined the two-wheel fraternity to save money on gas, aren't fully aware of the capabilities of the new outerwear to extend and add comfort to their riding season. Frankly I've never looked at it from that standpoint, either. Even in Minnesota, if there's no ice or snow on the road, it's possible to ride your bike if you have the proper gear, and I've seen many a Harley rider doing just that. What if all of a sudden you could ride year-round with only a couple of weeks of downtime when the weather turned really crappy? Except for the cold and the residue of that pesky sand they pour onto the roads, as long as the pavement's clear and the sun's shining it's a great day for a ride.

This dealer's promotion reaps benefits that extend beyond the outerwear and other products he sold. If the rider's got a longer riding season, he's putting on more miles. More miles ridden translates into more frequent tire replacements, more oil changes and more maintenance, all of which can put more money into your dealership when you need it most.

Riders always need something. Sometimes they just need to be reminded why.

Mike Vaughan is the former publisher of Dealernews. You can reach him at or via